Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A Biblical World View

I am currently taking a class through my church called Strategic Life Assessment - sort of a "What is God calling you to do in your life?" sort of thing.  It is not that I am necessarily looking for another career, but I would be less than honest in admitting that at some point I would like to do something else and - frankly - I am reaching the point where my experience (and companies' willingness to pay for it) may be outpaced by my age.

In going through the second section last night, we got to speaking about Biblical world views.  Which hit me in the gut, oddly enough.  Because it is something that I have been feeling my way around the fringes of in my life for some time.

An example the instructor used:  At certain times of his life he had been "in transition"  (which in this day and age typically means "out of work").  His wife prayed for money.  He prayed for a job.  What does the Bible tell us to pray for?  "Our daily bread" - provision and faith in Him.  (Not that there is anything wrong with praying for either.  It is just not really what God was after).

A biblical world view, for those that do not know, is simply viewing the world through the lens of the Bible.  Instead of having our attitudes and actions informed by something else - the culture, our friends, our philosophy - we inform them based on what God's Word says.

(Yes, by default this is meant to apply primarily to Christians.  As C.S. Lewis said, if  you are reading the Bible and do not believe it is as if you are reading someone else's love letters.  You have neither the context nor the relationship to make sense of them).

The point of our discussion last night was that for most Christians, this is simply not something that they do.  We have become "cultural Christians" (my words), adapting the Bible to fit the culture norms that we find ourselves in rather than being Christians and adapting the culture to the Bible. Lest you think that this is a Conservative or Liberal thing, it is neither.  I suspect (C.S. Lewis did the same) that it would seem somewhat "old fashioned" and yet somehow "liberated" at the same time:  the man or woman who can truly love all, while not loving their sins or actively supporting the loved ones in them.

I confess that it is a hard thing for me to think in this light.  I have let myself become too marinated in the culture that I live, the barnacles of cultures clinging to my mind having attached themselves firmly to it.  It is an upset the applecart sort of moment:  to make such a change is to drastically move back to a source of truth - an absolute - rather than founder in the ever rotating rays of the non-absolute truths of our culture.

But I have to.  If I truly sit down and think about it, I have lost my way more deeply than I care to admit.  And (to quote Lewis one more time), if you find yourself going the wrong direction the quickest way to fix it is turn around.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Will and Knowledge

...which always helps me.  Even if I do not how to do, I know I can do - even poorly to start out with.  And that makes all the difference.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Cities as Deserts

 As I was driving to church this past Sunday we passed one of our local varmints on the side of the road. He was dead, flat on his back with his four little legs up in the air. Driving by, it reminded about the wildlife that lives in our greater suburban area – rabbits, deer, skunks, opossums - and how, of course thye is getting slowly pushed out by the ongoing development literally jumping up right before our eyes. Building, building, building – slowly destroying the fauna and flora in it leaving naught but green spaces and parks as reminders of what used to be.

And suddenly it hit me: the city is a desert.

Oh, not in the way we have typically been trained to think of a desert: searing heat, scrub vegetation, devoid of water, inhabited by strangely adapted animals with large ears and burrowing feet. But desert nonetheless, in the sense that it is devoid of the life that inhabits the more temperate climates with nothing but isolated outposts of oases named “parks” and “green spaces” to sustain it.

I have stood on Market Street in San Francisco as the opening of dawn. There is nothing there but concrete and buildings and perhaps the odd pigeon. The papers abandoned from yesterday blow down the street from a cold wind coming off the Bay. In the early morning light it is empty, peopled only by the occasional commuter hurrying to an early start and those who make their life on the streets. It is essentially devoid of life. And even later in the day when the street and squares packed it only has the illusion of life: nothing “lives” there, instead merely moving through the landscape to reach somewhere else.

It is environmental degradation and depredation of the highest order. Yet strangely, so many that seem to dwell in these deserts hardly see them as such. Oftentimes their environmental concerns are all focused outward without recognizing the barren wasteland within which they dwell.

What if, in addition to demanding the protection of the environment that exists “out there”, they took the same sort of interest where they live? Certainly they have concerns about their water and air; what about the lifeless conditions in which they live? Putting up a few trees or helping squirrels dash across the road is hardly the thing; what about the radical notion of tearing down blocks and high rises and restoring fields and forests?

This is a picture of what San Francisco looked like in 1846  Why is this not the goal of the city dwellers along with their other goals of the environment?

Desertification is rightly seen as an environmental challenge that harms. But what about the desertification of life in our great metropolises that we have brought upon ourselves?

Thursday, February 23, 2017

New Iaito

There is nothing quite as grand as getting a package from a foreign country - in this case, Japan:

It is my iaito, or training sword.  It is a sword which is blunt and the blade of alloy but crafted to the standards of a traditional Japanese sword and in the correct length - in my case, 2.8 shaku (32") of blade for my school.

This is first - and only time- you will see this knot.  I can never recreate it:

The fuchi (ornament at the end of the hilt, or tsuka) and the kashira (or pommel) both have grain:

The menuki (ornaments under the hilt warp, or tsuka-itto, which are used to help grasp it) are rabbits!

The tsuba (guard) is some flame looking thing that reminds me of Buddhist texts of the underworld:

The hamon (line) where traditionally clay is placed before it is fired to create the differential steel is particularly fine:

It even comes with its own "imitation sword" certificate - quite necessary when taking it to Japan (so you can get it in and leave the country with it).

I am very happy with my purchase.  It has been a long wait to purchase (4 years) and will undoubtedly give me many years of good service (at this point, it is safe to assume I am in it for the long haul..).

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A Few Words From Abraham Lincoln

"We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven.  We have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity.  We have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown.

But we have forgotten God.  We have forgotten the gracious Hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.

Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!

It behooves us then to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins and pray for clemency and forgiveness." - Proclamation Appointing A National Fast Day, March 30 1863

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Building A Gate: Setting The Gate

So when we last left our hero, he was staring at posts without a gate:

First this was to add boards to the outer posts:

Next it was gate building time:  First job is to lay out the frame:

Next I lay the fence boards out and start attaching them.  Screws and a power drill make it go quickly:

 I debate about doing a cross bracing - but I have the wood,  why not?  How to cut it - a miter box, of course!

Attached, it looks quite professional.

Now I am ready to attach the gate - but find my first difficulty.  The hinge is supposed to go on the posts, not on the boards.  Now, the extra cost of the screws is a wise decision.  Simply unscrew them and the posts are exposed:

 Hinges attached:

 But now I have a separate problem:  The weight of the gate is all on one post:

I have to add two 6" 3/8" lag bolts to posts

Looking better:

And now the latch:

Whoops!  The latch is below the level of the cross beam:

Fortunately a little redneck engineering and we are moving forward again:

Rain gauge reattached to its old place:

And....a working gate! (but maybe not a working video - I cannot tell from the preview.  Apologies if it does not.

From the back:

So was it worth it?  The new fence to the side cost $25 a foot, plus disposal costs.  I had about $120 in materials into the project.  Total time was 11 hours - although to be fair, I was working alone and was not on a particular schedule.  The last 2 hours were the worst, as I had to do a series of readjustments to the cross beams and latch to make the gate close properly - that re-jiggering that tells you that you probably did something incorrectly.

So I probably saved a little money.  But like my adventure with the sink, the ultimate value here is not measured in time or money.  I have never before built a gate.  Oh, I have done parts of it, like post setting or building something from wood.  But I have never done something of this scope or this size on my own. And I did it - maybe not quite as cleaning as I had hoped for, but successfully.  So I can call someone if it happens again - but I also am content knowing that I could do it if I had to.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the yard:

Sigh.  Other neighbor is looking for fencing companies...

Monday, February 20, 2017

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Building A Gate: Setting The Posts

So about three weeks ago one of our fences in the back yard had a whole section collapse.  The landlord next door co-ordinated the replacement and the new fence looks good:

Unfortunately, our gate, which was on its last legs and attached to the previous fence, did not handle the separation with grace...

I debated whether to get a quote or to do myself - but I had a three day weekend, so let us build a gate!

First of course, is the removal of the old gate and posts:

These posts literally slid right out of the ground:

Have a little wood rot with the replacement?

The other side literally broke off at ground level:

The gate also just almost fell out of its moorings:

So now I started to place the two posts nearest to the house.  First unhappy surprise:  these posts were also concreted in place - and my posts were just a little bigger and would not fit.

This created some stress in my life. I have neither the tools to remove concrete nor the time to do so.  I tried with a crowbar and hammer but got nowhere.  Then I had an idea worthy of my friend Jambaloney: the new fence extended beyond where it had previously been so obviously they had sunk a new post  hole.  Why could I not do the same?

Progress went more quickly after that.

Placing the first two posts was fairly straightforward.  I may not know a great deal about a great many things, but I spent three months with my father-in-law The Master Sergeant putting posts in place.  A post, I can put up (I will spare you the boring details of mixing and setting the concrete):

I would show the others, but apparently I deleted them.  Suffice it to say that the process was exactly the same (although I ran out of concrete and had to go to the Big Box Parts store for more).

Next was the part to attach the fence boards to. This was a challenge (at least for me) as the screws would not directly go in.  I tried a drill bit (better, but not much so) then settled on a wood drill bit.  It made the process go faster, although changing from bit to bit chewed up some time:

My second posts had not set so I could not do much else - and besides, it was nearing the end of the day:

Depending on the progress I make, we will either have a Part II or Part II and Part III to this.  Overall tired and a bit sore, but satisfied with the progress today.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Employees and Businesses: Against Their Own Best Interest

Sometimes it feels like workers (and businesses) are fighting not for but against themselves and their best interests.

In an age where automation is becoming more and more prevalent, higher wages are demanded and less customer service is delivered. In an age where more and more consumers are concerned with a breadth of selection and pricing (e.g. Amazon) companies make their businesses into a social statement sure to offend some level of their customer base.

In other words, in an age of clear economic trends, both employees and an employers are doing everything in their power to make themselves irrelevant.

As an employee, if I want to stay employed my job is to provide better, more knowledgeable service, to increase my value to my employer and therefore to the company – not demand it as a virtue of my appearing at work. As an employer, my job is to grow my customer base, not find ways to cut it off. And certainly in either case, my job is not to get anyone to pause and think that perhaps they could make do without my services.

I am certainly not an economist and so do not know that I could describe it in economic terms. That said, what the difference seems to be is a value that I believe I provide through my work/service/product versus a value I believe I derive simply from being in the marketplace. The first is a reward for effort; the second is a reward for existence.

I can say with certainty that such persons and businesses are always caught behind the curve when the bad thing happens: when automation replaces their job; when their revenue drops off a cliff, when an upstart competitor flies past them. There is a certain (almost predictable) amount of surprise, followed by an inevitable cry of “It is not fair”.  But in these cases “fair” has very little to do with it. Consumers, be they individuals or corporations, guard their money with care and spend it grudgingly. The employee or business that wishes to be successful should be searching for reasons to convince them to spend their money, not come up with ways to remind them to hold on to it.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Few Words From Doctor Martin Luther

"Behold, Lord, an empty vessel that needs to be filled.  My Lord, fill it.  I am weak in the faith; strengthen thou me.  I am cold in love; warm me and make me fervent that my love may go out to my neighbor. I do not have a strong and firm faith; at times I doubt and am unable to trust thee altogether; O Lord, help me.  Strengthen my faith and trust in thee.  In thee. I have sealed the treasure of all I have.  I am poor; thou art rich and didst come to be merciful to the poor.  I am a sinner; thou art upright.  With me there is an abundance of sin; in thee is the fullness of righteousness.  Therefore, I will remain with thee of whom I can receive but to whom I cannot give.  Amen."

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

One Last Logsdon Book

Happy News for those (like me) that was deeply saddened by Gene Logsdon's passing last year:  He has one last book coming out:

I love the way Logsdon writes - a sort of happy combination of knowledge and folksy wisdom, sort of Mark Twain-ish.  The title alone suggests that this is fitting tribute to him. He always in his books sought to encourage others, especially the young, to pick up the torch of the agricultural life and carry it on.  Even beyond the grave, he still continues to speak.

How happy I am I shall get one last chance to hear his written voice and thought words.